1 July 2007

Google Docs Dictionary and Thesaurus

Earlier this week, Ionut Alex. Chitu noted that Google was planning to integrate with Encyclopedia Britannica and Merriam-Webster’s dictionary and thesaurus. After a bit of digging around, I’ve found a way you can enable the dictionary and thesaurus features now – even before they’re released!

Once activated, you will see three new items in the menu when you right-click words or highlighted phrases:

Dictionary definition for “Google” displays the following Merriam-Webster definition:

As you can see, there are still a few bugs with the encoding.

And Thesaurus tool for “digging” displays the following Merriam-Webster thesaurus tool:

Unfortunately, the “Encyclopedia article” link currently just returns an empty window titled “Encyclopedia Britannica” for now.

Selecting a word which doesn’t have a dictionary definition or thesaurus entry will sometimes give you a list of “similar” words, although similar words for “Google” currently returns cackle, chuckle, cockle, cycle, giggle, goggle, guzzle, jiggle, joggle, juggle, quackle, quickly, shackle, sicky, sizzle, squiggle, suckle and swizzle!

Highlighting more than one word also seems to cause problems. (Highlighting the phrase “digging around” returns nothing but an error message for “diggingaround” without the space, for example.)

It’s obvious why this hasn’t been released yet, but if you don’t mind the bugs and want to play with this feature for yourself, here’s how to do it:

  1. Open a Google Docs document.

  2. Paste the following code into your browser’s address bar and hit return:

  3. Right-click any of the words in the document to view the extra items in the menu.

Update: Haochi mentions in the forum that the definitions and thesaurus entries are being served directly from the Merriam-Webster site. For example, the dictionary definition for “Google” and the thesaurus entry for “digging” can be viewed directly. Doing this temporarily solved the encoding issues I was having, but only in Firefox. It seems that Google uses UTF-8 encoding whereas the Merriam-Webster frame could be using Windows-1252.

Update 2 (August 4, 2007): Following a recent update to Google Docs & Spreadsheets, this hack no longer works.

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